Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Potato Chip Story Part 2

My experience as a juror last week confirmed in a very real way that the world is just filled with some stupid people that do stupid things for stupid reasons.

I'll start by explaining the basic facts, and then go further into the details and how the things got truly ridiculous.

On March 25, 2009 at around 5:30 PM, a 20-something-year-old male African American cashier was working the express check out lane at H-E-B. This is the express lane on the south side of the store closest to 7th Avenue in Corsicana, Navarro County, TX next to the produce. (For some reason the exact location of this particular lane was of the utmost importance.)

An 11-year old girl was in line starting to put groceries up on the belt when her mother catches back up with her to check out. In the buggy, there were more than 20 items, and this was the 10 items or less lane. Evidently, there were items towards the front, and items towards the back of the buggy. A number of items were hidden underneath a large package of toilet paper (so the testimony of the clerk goes). The cashier tells the woman and her daughter that they cannot check out in this line because they have too many items. There are lots of people are in line, so they need to go on to another line.

The woman asks for a manager and while the cashier and woman are yah-yahing back and forth, the woman's "husband" walks up munching on potato chips, and asks what the problem is. The "husband" then allegedly says, "I've got a problem with you #*$$@& (a racial slur)." and then proceeds to throw potato chips in the direction of the clerk.

That's the basic situation. There are two charges filed against the defendant.

#1 is disorderly conduct for what was said. This is not the exact legal language, but basically, anything said that can be taken as offensive or vulgar and bring about a response can fall under the category of disorderly conduct.

#2 is class C misdemeanor assault. Assault can be defined as anyone touching you in a way that you find offensive. If someone taps you, and you take it as offensive because you did not want to be tapped, that can be considered assault. They don't have to injure you in anyway. And, they don't have to even touch you. If something that comes from your hands touches someone else, that can be assault.

So, that's what we are trying to decide - beyond a reasonable doubt - not beyond any doubt (because that would be impossible it is explained to us) - if this disorderly conduct and assault occurred.

First witness - a guy standing in line right behind the woman and her 20+ items. He testifies to the exact location of the express lane, the length of the line and than there were more than 20 items. He did hear the offensive language, saw the chips fly, and then got the heck out of Dodge with his two year old daughter because he knew something big was about to happen.

In cross examination, the focus is mainly on whether or not the chips were simply tossed straight in the air or whether or not they were thrown in the direction of the clerk.

Second witness - a refrigeration worker who is employed by company that contracts to H-E-B to do inspections and preventative maintenance on the freezers. He was also in line - just buying a Dr Pepper for his long drive back home to Ft. Worth. He says that the "husband" said something, but he is not sure what came after "I've got a problem with you" though he did see the "husband's" lips move. This guy is about as nervous as the day is long on the witness stand is thankful to get to leave. This is especially the case since evidently his testimony on the stand did not exactly match what he had told the city attorney earlier in the morning in regards to what he heard.

At this point, I guess I better fill you in on what happened on March 25, 2009 after the "husband" throws the chips. The clerk comes around the checkout counter, punches the chip thrower in the cheek and grabs him around the neck, knocking the guy to the ground. The clerk evidently beat the guy pretty mightily.

Up next - the police officer who was called to the scene to investigate. He testifies that no, he did not witness the actual potato chip throwing because he was not there (at the H-E-B on 7th Avenue in Corsicana, Navarro County, TX) at the time, but did talk to witnesses and review the surveillance tape. Enter exhibit 1.

The court clerk inserts the DVD that she gets from the city attorney into the laptop to be projected on the screen. The defense attorney assumes that it is the same footage that he has possession of and he has no objections to the jury viewing said survellience video.

Evidently you had to have special instructions to play this and it plays at fast speed. We have a short recess to see if we can figure out where the technical guy on staff at the city is to see if he can slow this down because at the speed it is going, you barely see the chip toss, but do see the clerk taking out the "husband".

We finally figure out that we have to watch this stupid video frame by frame by frame. Starting with the clerk checking out a man in a baseball cap that stands there the whole time. (I guess to witness trouble.) We finally get to the toss and proceed through clerk coming around the counter, throwing off his apron and doing his prize fighter thing. They fall onto the ground, out of view on the other side of the counter, and on and on frame by frame until the clerk finally gets up and picks up his apron.

Over and over again we back up and watch forward the chips. Do they fall straight down onto the belt? Do we see that white spot over the clerks head that must be a potato chip? Does that not prove they were not thrown straight up in the air but rather in the direction of the clerk to actually hit him? Of course, we can't see his face.

The police officer says the clerk was just defending himself from the potato chip attack. The "husband" was arrested for the assault because he started all this, but he was taken to the hospital to tend to his injuries.

The defense attorney questions the officer about whether or not the police chief changed his mind about who was at fault and so forth and so on, but was evidently making stuff up at this time because the cop didn't know what he was talking about.

You would think this was Law & Order because the city attorney wants to be able to recall most all of the witnesses if need be. What all this really reminded me of is when I was in debate and high school because this just seemed unreal to be listening to all of this.

After the police officer, the clerk came to the stand. We have to watch the survelience video again. Back and forth, frame by frame, with the potato chips flying over his head.

He does testify that he was fired for his part in hitting the "husband".

The defense attorney gives the clerk grief over the fact that the paperwork he signed had the wrong date on it - that it happened on the 28th rather than the 25th. The city attorney objects. The judge explains to us no less than 4 times by the time it's all over with that it was a typographical error that was corrected and amended on additional filings and the charges before us that day. We go around on this pointless stuff forever.

Then, the defense attorney gets on a kick of why the disorderly conduct charge/accuastation of the slur was not filed in March. Or in April, or in May, or in June, or in July, or in August, or in September. It was filed in October. (The attorney proved three times that he knew his months in order because he did this bit during jury selection, during this part, and again in closing arguments. By the third time my eyes almost rolled out of my head.) Then there was some foggy conversation about who called the clerk and told him he should also get the "husband" for the disorderly conduct and who talked to the clerk's mama and so forth and so on. There were a lot of objections thrown in as well.

Finally, after two hours of listening to all this we get a recess. One of the other jurors was annoyed that all this was eating into her nap time. Since she is now retired after running Corny Dog 7 at the mall for 16 years, she takes a nap every day. She also watches Judge Judy daily.

All I can say is that Judge Judy, Judge Joe Brown, or the late great (great according to my late great Nanny) Judge Wapner would have had this baby sewn up in 12 minutes, including commercials and would not have listened to all this mess.

When we get back into the courtroom, I'm telling the rest of the jury (and the judge because he was talking to us) that I was ready to get 'er done. I even had the judge saying it too since he didn't get to have lunch after the speeding ticket trial.

Up next, the "wife". OK, I know you have all been wondering why I keep referring to the "husband" in quotes. You see, I don't think this couple knew what they were to each other. They've been living together for over three years and have a baby together, but evidently weren't married. Yet, reference kept being made about husband or boyfriend and such, and the whole thing was never really cleared up and the attorneys didn't know what to call them. I think it takes 7 years to be common law in the state of Texas, but what do I know.

The "wife" testifies that she had ordered food at the deli that she didn't want to get cold so the daughter was getting in line. When she came up the daughter was putting stuff back in the buggy, and she asked why she was doing it. She says that the items were divided in two parts. She was just going to purchase 10 items and someone else was paying for the rest. I guess her "husband" that was standing in another line talking to someone at the time.

Why his rear wasn't in line to pay for the other 10 items, I don't know. I guess he was going to cut in in line in front of everyone else. AND if they were married, why were they checking out their 10 items separately?

She seemed to be almost in tears as she explained again she didn't want her deli food to get cold. She wanted to talk to a manager, but the clerk would not get a manager. When the "husband" comes up, he asks what was wrong, and after some back and forth, she says the clerk says, "I'm going to kick your $*&#in' ^$$ old man" and "husband" replies back, "bring it" and proceeds to toss his potato chips in the air, not at the clerk. And yes, the chips did land behind the wall behind the clerk, but they went over his head, not at him. The chips could have gone over his head without being thrown in his face.

I think we had to watch surveillence tape again. This whole time, two other women with two children (one was the "husband" and "wife's" child) were wondering in and out of the room. The judge finally told them to sit down and be still or get out. It took him long enough.

Finally, "husband" takes the stand and pretty much collaborates everything "wife" said. Claims he threw them in the air and admits to saying "bring it."

We did watch the surveillence tape again. And he had to put on his glasses and walk up closer to see it. He also testifies that after his beating, he almost died. I doubt that.

The defense attorney gets on a line of questioning as to whether or not "husband" had any black relatives. He did. Because surely, if he had relatives who were black, he would not use the word in question.

After the final testimony, we finally get to closing arguments. While the city attorney does his arguments, the defense attorney's phone rings again. The judge got after him again (he too has had enough of this entire thing). Then the two attorneys got in an "objection" match over whether or not the city attorney was insinuating that the defense took witness number 2 to lunch since he changed his story along the way.

The defense attorney gets up and talks about rational sanity or something. (Like any of this was sane.) He says, "who has ever heard of assault by a p-o-t-a-t-o c-h-i-p before. That we the jury may be written up for the first case ever. That if we found this man guilty of assualt by potato chip in this county, then he didn't think he would want to live in this county.

At this point, the juror to my left couldn't hold her laughter any longer. Neither could I. I had to disguise snorts of laughter with coughs more than once that afternoon. (All the while my dad kept wondering up the hall from his office and by the windows to see if I was still there.)

After 3 1/2 hours, we were finally able to deliberate. As soon as the judge and everyone else left the room, I said, "I have one stupid question that I have to ask. Did this guy ever pay for his potato chips?"

One of the other jurors replied, "I wondered the same thing."

We had no problem agreeing on the assualt charge. We believed he threw them at the clerk, not simply in the air to litter the place like confetti. While we don't know if "the N word" was used for certain, at the very least, he said "bring it" which would have been offensive and be considered disorderly conduct. Each count could only be charged a $500 fine each, and we didn't recommend the max charge in either case.

When the verdict was read back, defense attorney and "husband" rolled their eyes at the "guilty" to assault, but barely blinked at the "guilty" to disorderly conduct. I tend to believe that the "N" word was said.

I didn't get out of there until almost 4:30. Four hours of testimony and arguments about potato chips. I never want to eat or see a potato chip again after all this.

The next time I am summoned to jury duty and the judge asks about insanity, I think I'm going to claim it and explain, "well, yeah, of course I am. I had to serve on the potato chip trial."

I just pray that I don't get summoned for the district court case for the higher class assault charge against the clerk for beating the crap out of the "husband".

Last night at church, the city attorney told me that "husband" and his TV attorney are suing H-E-B becuase it was their employee that beat him. Neither of us thinks they have much of a case.

2 comments:

Pam said...

That is a very strange case. Maybe we will see the whole thing on you tube before long.
I plan to assault people with potato chips in protest to stupid cases like this. (JK)

Mark said...

just now got around to reading part tww - hilarious story, thanks for making me laugh today :-)